Looking for Love (Online)
Ack! Valentine's Day is here, and you're without a date! What to do?
I used to get a few single friends together, drink champagne, and watch Sex in the City. You can opt to embrace the solitude, either through doing something that only you like doing (folding origami stuff), or by listening to Mary J. Blige and weeping your eyes out.
Or, you can post a personal ad, and get yourself a date.
I've done my share of online dating. Unlike many people, I don't fear meeting people through the interwebs. I'm not into the bar/club scene, and I don't go to laundromats, so that leaves me with few date-finding options. Plus, I've spent most of my 20s employed in the high-tech industry, largely in start-ups, so I'm often short on time but long on high-speed internet access. So online dating offered a simple, easy way to screen candidates.
Many consumer-focused groups and other websites have already rated online dating sites. I don't feel like anyone who writes these articles has actually DATED, much less dated online, so I'm here to offer my perspective on a few of the top sites.
Free, gloriously free: Craigslist
I started looking for love online when I lived in the Bay Area in 2000. Craigslist was still limited to that one metropolitan area, and was largely used by techies and start-up types, which meant that everyone there was more or less, educated, literate and fairly trustworthy. Unfortunately, the general population soon discovered craigslist, which means that personals ads often read like this:
Looking for Affectrionate, atrractive and down-to-earth Princess - 40
Ah, yes. The down-to-Earth Princess. My favorite oxymoron. And affectrionate to boot. If that's not enough there are always compelling personal details to whet your romantic appetite:
I drive, I have a 2 dogs,2cats,fish and a bird the never stops talking he is funny. Any ways if u want to know more just ask.
However, despite the fact that the craigslist dating pool is now extremely diluted by illiterate mouth-breathers, there are some good people to be found on there. There are also people who are more than willing to teach you how to compose a good ad in your search for love. But you have to search. Now is actually a good time - even if you are boycotting Valentine's Day, you'll find that the number of personal ads on craigslist spikes around V-Day - go ahead and peruse the site and see what you can find.
Craigslist is also great because you don't have to create an account to find a date - you can just reply to other people's ads. Most importantly, and the reason why I discussed it first, craigslist is all about the froog (that's my new slang word for "frugal" - feel free to use it as long as you attribute it to me, or maybe the person who thought of it before me). You can't get cheaper than free, and craigslist is all about being cheap. Don't believe me? Post an ad offering a perfectly good, 1-year old, flat panel, 17" television set for $50 and see how many people offer you $3 for it.
One tip for all online dating - create a nice, anonymous email account that does not include your name or any personal info. There are some crazies out there.
Time investment: Considerable, there's a lot of wading to do
Hand-holding: Nope, you're on your own
Grievances: Some weird, weird people out there
Exclusivity: God, no
Unverified free: Gay Singles/Lesbian Singles Online
OK, I haven't used this site, but they seem to be fairly trustworthy - they won't spam you or sell your info to anyone else. There are plenty of listings, which is good, because other sites have a real dearth of gay postings. Craigslist, in particular, is a difficult place for lesbians to find love - many cities just don't have that many postings, and the ones that do don't share photos (I understand why someone wouldn't, especially if they are not out at work, but still), and plenty of women just show up and post dumb haikus about their longings. Gay Singles Online and its gal-only counterpart, Lesbian Singles Online, offer some hope for the Sapphic searcher. TangoWire seems to run a plethora of sites dedicated to queer dating, and these are only two of them, but I'm assuming they all have the same database.
Cost: They claim to be free- not sure if there are any hidden costs
Time investment: Medium - not as bad as eHarmony, fo' sho'
Grievances: None from me, but some experienced online daters might want to provide feedback
Exclusivity: It would probably help if you were some flavor of queer
Not-so-cheap, but lots of pricing options - The Onion
I do so love The Onion. A long time ago, The Onion personals were seemed exclusive to, you know, The Onion, so it was a fair bet that everyone you met on the site would be at least as sarcastic as you. Then The Onion hooked up with some huge media conglomerate and formed a single database for dating.
I've met a few nice guys through The Onion's online personals. The format, you've probably seen. You list things, like what someone might find in your bedroom. There is room for creative writing and humor, and it's easy to spot idiots. You can block profiles that you don't want to see anymore, send winks if you're not sure that you want to message a particular person, and put together a "hot list". There is a variable pricing program, so you pay more for additional features. The problem with this is that some people who are incredibly cheap will put an ad up, but won't have the ability to initiate any contact. You can search for people who opted to pay more, but then you feel like a classist.
One of the strangest things about The Onion is their aggressive advertising on a variety of other web sites - using expired ads. I know this because when I logged onto one of my favorite web sites a few months ago, I came across one of my best friend's ads. I emailed her, asking her if she was back on the market, and she was horrified to find that her image was still being used to lure people into the site. You know, seeing as how she is married and all.
Cost: Depends on how many people you contact - you purchase credits/points in big batches and spend a few of them every time you initiate contact with someone
Time investment: Up to you - depends on how well-crafted you want your profile to be
Hand-holding: A little - there are questions for you to answer and all
Grievances: Aforementioned fake/expired sample ads
Exclusivity: Not really, although you can filter results to be exclusive
Middle-range but stupid: Match.com and Yahoo Personals
These, I totally avoid. Once I learned that both companies have been accused of sending false emails to people looking for love, I abandoned the idea of using them. Taking advantage of the lovelorn isn't OK. Homey don't roll like that.
Sell your firstborn or kidney to afford: eHarmony
eHarmony is famous for using really long, drawn-out surveys and Jungian archetypes to determine your best match. When I first signed up for eHarmony out of curiosity (could they really match me with someone good?), I was informed that there was no one within 100 miles of my home that would be even close to a good match for me. I sort of figured that that meant that I was either impossible to deal with (maybe) or that eHarmony had a really small dating pool.
Turned out that the latter was correct, because when I signed up again a few years later, I found that there were dozens of men that apparently matched me in every conceivable aspect of my personality. Which was kind of good, but also kind of frightening. eHarmony is really aggressive about informing you that you have a new match, and after a while, I found that I had to narrow my definition of "acceptable" to slow down the onslought of available men.
I never actually met anyone off of eHarmony, and closed the account when I became overwhelmed by the wave of communicating men. I felt cheated, first because eHarmony is really expensive, and second, because I had spent hours going through all of the surveys and questions and explanations, and I never really managed to go on a date. I can't blame eHarmony for this. But I can blame for the whopping price, the miselading emails (the ones that tell you to come back for only $19.99 a month, but negelect to mention that that's only if you sign up for another 12 months at $40 a month).
You can read a great analysis of the site here.
Cost: Not Froog - roughly $50/month, less per month if you buy more months
Time investment: Intense - many questions to answer
Hand-holding: So much so that you might forget how to feed yourself without eHarmony there
Grievances: Mainly the price, but also the fact that they only match heterosexual couples - the founder of eHarmony is apparently against same-sex coupling
Exclusivity: Yes - the people on here make enough money to spend at least $40/month looking for a mate, and you are matched based on a very extensive list of factors, so you are less likely to get stuck on a date with someone who has an entirely different value system than you do. Also, someone who can afford hundreds of dollars per year in online dating expenses probably has most of their own teeth. Still in their mouth.
And that's about all I have to offer at this point in time. There are many specialized sites out there that cater to every type (vegans, atheists, Jews, atheist vegan Jews, etc.) so you're not as limited as you might think. Explore your options! Date! Love! Go now!